Journalists and media managers yesterday voiced their concerns over ongoing Government interference in media operations ahead of the 12th anniversary of the attack on Standard Group premises in Nairobi.
A few minutes after midnight on March 2, 2006, masked men stormed the company’s offices at I&M building in the heart of the city and switched off the lights and CCTV cameras. They also immobilised the lifts before detaining and harassing the journalists they found on duty.
The goons also destroyed broadcasting equipment and put KTN off air. They vandalised the offices and confiscated broadcasting equipment and computers.
And that was not all. At the company’s Likoni Road office, the raiders broke down doors to access the printing press. They vandalised the press machines and torched copies of the day’s newspapers that were being printed, and carted away more equipment, including a motor vehicle.
The late John Michuki, who was the Internal Security minister at the time, later explained why the media house was attacked. Standard Group, he said, was raided because it was planning to publish and broadcast a series of stories that were damaging to the Government, and that would compromise national security.
An unapologetic Mr Michuki justified the raid, saying: “If you rattle a snake (the Government), you must be prepared to be bitten by it.”
Leaked US cables released by the whistle-blowing website, Wikileaks, later revealed that Michuki had ordered the raid.
The cables released by the US Embassy in Nairobi also revealed that the attack was believed to have been co-ordinated by two Armenian mercenaries, the so-called Artur brothers - Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan.
Former Standard Group Deputy Chairman and Chief Strategist Paul Melly, who headed the company at the time, recalled the dark day. He said the day’s newspaper had nothing “damaging”, only a story of students who had performed well in national examinations.
The former Standard Group boss said the raid paralysed the firm’s media operations and caused the company losses running into millions of shillings besides denying Kenyans access to news and information.
Kipkoech Tanui, Standard Group’s Deputy Editorial Director and Managing Editor, The Standard, also condemned the incident.
“The commando-like raid in the thick of the night by balaclava-clad policemen clutching assault rifles was an extraordinary act of aggression against press freedom... The raid had little to do with perceived grievances over a specific incident, but everything to do with a dangerous intolerance in Government that, in all probability, relates directly to the media’s role as a watchdog,” Mr Tanui said.
John Bundotich, Managing Editor, Weekend Editions, described the raid as an affront to democracy.
“No country can be free without Press freedom,” he said. “The anniversary is marked when there are profound threats from Government on media and journalists.”
On January 30, the Government through the Communications Authority of Kenya shut down KTN, NTV and Citizen TV for airing live Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s ‘swearing-in’ as the ‘people’s president’ at Uhuru Park in Nairobi.
Kenya has also dropped in global rankings of press freedom over the past decade, especially under the Jubilee Party administration.
Research by the World Press Freedom Index covering 180 countries places Kenya in the bottom half, from where several other previously unstable countries have lifted themselves.
In 2017 rankings compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Kenya’s standing was comparable to Kuwait and Lebanon.
The shutdown of independent TV stations and subsequent threats to journalists further erodes the ratings currently classified as “problematic” in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Transparency International (TI), while releasing its 2017 Corruption Perception Index last week, painted a grim picture for media practitioners across the world.
“No activist or reporter should have to fear for their lives when speaking out against corruption. Given current crackdowns on both civil society and the media worldwide, we need to do more to protect those who speak up,” said TI Managing Director Patricia Moreira.
Kenya was ranked in position 143 out of 180 countries surveyed.
Media Owners Association chairman Hanningtone Gaya and his Media Council of Kenya (MCK) counterpart David Omwoyo called for the promotion of press freedom but also urged journalists to be responsible.
Mr Omwoyo condemned the Government’s extra-judicial means of silencing media.
“We need clear respect of law. Media and Government should dialogue to be able to work together while media should know that there is no freedom without responsibility.”
Eric Odour, secretary general of Kenya Union of Journalists, said the raid on Standard was a dark moment and the height of Government interference in media operations.